Archive for January, 2008

If you’ve watched shows and/or videos of the birth of rock and roll, you’ll know that the pundits say it was the Brits who embraced the blues, then later morphed it into what we now know as Rock and Roll, invading the US with the fresh sound of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Yardbirds, and many other Rock greats. But despite that, the blues lives on in Britain, and I’ve come across an absolutely excellent blues guitarist named Aynsley Lister. This guy does the blues – and it’s real good! Check out this video below:

Kind of reminiscent of SRV for sure, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – especially if you can pull it off, and man, does this dude pull it off! Enjoy!

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I was over at igblog reading about Lindsey Buckingham in Ig’s article, “Lindsey Buckingham, guitar hero? « IG BLOG (life-music-guitar)” and something that Lindsey said in the accompanying video really struck a note with me (paraphrased): “Most song writers will say that song writing isn’t something that they make happen. It’s something that happens to them.” That couldn’t be more true, at least for me. I’ve never been able to explain how I get song ideas. They just come to me and I’m compelled to write them down or record them. I have no control over what my songs will be about, or when the inspiration will come along. It just happens, and to me, that’s the beauty of song writing.

When I actually think about how songs come to me, I get a little unsettled. It’s such a stream-of-consciousness experience. I’ll be reading something, or even listening to some music, or engaged in a conversation, and suddenly a tune will pop in my head. I sort of enter a zone, and everything – lyrics and music – just comes.

If you’re a songwriter, I’d like to hear your experience. Care to share?

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Top Dawg: Sungha Jung

Sungha Jung - this kid is amazing!!!I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t discover this kid. I stumbled upon him via GuitarFlame’s blog. I was so impressed that an 11 year old kid had chops this good that I had to list him here as a Top Dawg. You have to see it to believe it! This kid is absolutely amazing, and here’s yet another thing: He has only been playing for 2 years! Imaging what he’ll be like in 10 years! I think this kid is headed for guitar greatness.

Click here to see him play. Your jaw will drop!!!

You might be tempted to think that this is gimmicky, but let me tell you, it’s VERY rare to come across a true prodigy like this. Enjoy and be amazed!

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I wrote this song about three years ago, and finally got around to doing a recording of it that I liked. My original recording was only a piano and an acoustic guitar, but I always wanted to do more with it, and also arrange it a bit differently than I originally wrote it, which was quite mellow. With this rendition, the tempo is just a little bit faster, and I added bass and acoustic guitars, plus a couple of harmonies. I like it much better. You can listen to it here:

Gathered As One Body

For you liturgical musicians, feel free to download the sheet music here.

The entire recording was done in GarageBand, which I continue to have a love affair with. I still use ProTools, but for spec stuff like this, GB offers me close to production quality – plus it’s so easy to use, it really allows me to be creative.

Instruments: Piano (MIDI), MIDI Drum loop from GarageBand, Bass, Acoustic Guitar.

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Epiphone 58 Korina ExplorerThis past week, I was paging through an old issue of Guitar Player mag, and noticed a picture of Nancy Wilson [who wouldn’t notice that absolutely beautiful angel of rock] playing an Epiphone Les Paul in an Epiphone ad. Epiphone is a brand that guitarists know, and is considered to be the “bargain” line of Gibson. But I was curious to find out more, so I did a search to see if I could find a history of the brand. It’s an amazing story!

After I read the article, I remembered that I have an Epiphone 58 Korina Explorer collecting dust in my garage. I originally purchased it for my son as a Christmas present a few years ago, but sadly, he’s given up playing for awhile (he’s devoted pretty much all his time to ice hockey, and that’s okay with me). So I reclaimed it for myself. Unfortunately the Explorer has not been touched for quite some time.I think part of my not playing this guitar so much is that I had this bias about Epiphone being a “cheap” brand. But after seeing that ad in GP, and then seeing that a lot of other great guitarists play Epi’s, plus after reading the Epiphone history, I decided to take my Korina out, and give it a whirl. Also, I’ve had this view that the Explorer is more of a pure rocker’s guitar (think Matthias Jabs of the Scorpions), and I was admittedly very intimidated by the legacy of great players who play the Explorer. So it was with a bit of reluctance that I took it out to play it.

As the guitar had been sitting for a long time, it was obviously very out of tune. Luckily it was dust-free as it sat in a great hard case that I purchased for it all these months; and luckier still that before I put it in the garage, I restrung it with my favorite Fender nickel plated steel strings (Fender Super 250s – actually pretty cheap strings, but I love their tone), so I didn’t have to worry about re-stringing the instrument. After a quick check, and re-adjusting the low E-string’s intonation ever so slightly, I plugged the guitar into my rig, and tuned her up. Once I got her tuned, I strummed a chord, and was completely surprised by the “OH MY F^&KIN’ GAWD!” response that came over me.

The sound that this supposedly “cheap imitation” produced was absolutely gorgeous! Oodles and oodles of sustain, a real natural, overdriven tone, and a beautiful punch from the dual humbuckers. I gotta tell ya, I’m absolutely giddy from the sound that this produces! No wonder Michael Schenker has played an Explorer all these years! So let’s go into a bit more detail, shall we?


First off, this is a very mid-rangy guitar, when you’re using both humbuckers. Setting the switch to the neck position deepens the tone ever so slightly, and turning the volume knob down produces a beautifully clear clean tone. As one might expect, the bridge pickup picks up more of the high-freq tones, but it’s not “tinny” as many bridge position pickups tend to be. Mind you, this is a guitar that is not for the faint of heart with respect to overdriven tone. The Explorer wants to growl, and any volume position higher than 3 will produce breakup. That may be just this particular guitar, but it’s something I totally appreciate in it. As a side note, another reason why I didn’t play this guitar was at the time, I was a bit intimidated by playing with an overdriven tone. I didn’t know how to control it. But now that I do, I have a renewed appreciation for what this guitar delivers.

Did I mention sustain? The Explorer just loves to sing, and I was totally amazed at the natural sustain that this thing has. Adding my OCD to the signal, just enhanced that sustain with beautiful overtones and harmonics. Then punching in my TS-808 beefed up the midrange. While you might think this was overkill, the sound didn’t get muddy at all! It’s pure ear-candy!

Now even though this guitar wants to growl, it responds well to the volume knob. Increasing levels of volume add more drive and chunk, but the cool thing is that it’s very gradual. Some guitars I’ve played have a threshold where drive comes on suddenly at a certain point. That’s tough to control – especially if you’re in the middle of a song. With the Explorer, it’s easy to dial in just the right amount of break-up that you want. What I’ve done is set the volume knobs to about 4 or 5 to get a nice rumble, then let my TS-808 and OCD pedals add more texture. It’s a nice combo.

Finally, a very pleasing feature that I played around with is feedback. It’s even easier to get this puppy to feedback than with my ES-335, which is known for the nice feedback it produces. The feedback from the Korina is higher in pitch than my 335, and is much more subtle. The 335, on the other hand produces a feedback that’s very robust – a bit too much. But the Korina seems to just make the feedback part of its delivery, and it comes across almost like an overtone – nice!


The neck is narrow with a shallow, C-shaped back. In other words, it’s a very fast neck. I had my Korina set up with a pretty low action, and had the frets ground down a bit for my son. That was a good call on my part because that’s how I like my necks anyway. I don’t like to dig in too much, and rely on bending and rocking to produce vibrato.The rosewood fretboard (which is something I absolutely love), has a real nice feel to it, and begs you to dig in and apply all sorts of vibrato. Like other Gibson-esque guitars, the neck’s position in relation to the body really draws you to play in the upper registers. Contrast this to a Strat, where I have to move the guitar a bit left to get to the upper registers. It’s not bad, it’s just different.Frankly, even though the Explorer has a space-age shape, it’s a very balanced guitar. The pickups are perfectly positioned, so you can rest your forearm on the body a tad bit, and really articulate the strings with your picking hand. Also, I found that because of the position of the pickups, I could get pinch harmonics without moving around much to find the nodes. On the Korina, the strongest-sounding nodes are just in front of the bridge pickup.

Surprisingly enough, the Explorer feels even lighter than my Strat! The size of the body might suggest a heavy guitar, but it’s quite light, and will be very easy to move around with on stage.

Summing it up…

I should really kick myself for my “cheap” bias surrounding this guitar. After all, I chose a $500 Made in Mexico Stratocaster over a $2400 American Standard. Why? Simply because its sound kicked ass over the American Strat. Here’s the kicker with my Korina Explorer: I paid $200 for it, then spent another $100 getting it cleaned and set up. The guy I bought it from said it was a sweet-sound guitar that played much better than what I was paying for it. He wasn’t wrong. I’ve had a hidden gem in my collection of guitars for all this time, and I didn’t even know it!

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image-250.jpgI mentioned in a previous post that I played for an audience of 750+ folks. What a rush! Anyway, there was a great photographer flitting about the place, and he happened to get some shots of the The Dawg playing, so I thought I’d share them to put a face to the name. Based upon the capo position, I think I was playing “Something in the Way She Moves” by James Taylor.


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On Monday night, I performed solo in front of 700+ people; just me and my guitar. It was probably the largest crowd that I’ve ever played for as a solo act, and it was a totally cool experience. I did a lot of covers in my set ranging from James Taylor to the Beatles – even some Lynrd Skynrd. But the highlight for me was playing my new instrumental song, “Que Cosa.” I created a backing track that I downloaded to my iPod, which I routed through my PA, then played the guitar lead over the backing track. I’ve actually been rehearsing doing this for months, but finally worked up the courage to try it out in a real gig. I was really overwhelmed by the response.

I think the issue for me doing a purely instrumental piece had to do with some self-doubt. I really didn’t know if I’d be “good enough” to pull it off. But I broke through that doubt because there was only one way to find out if I was good enough. Based upon the response from the crowd, I guess I did fine. Of course, I’m always pushing to be better, but at least now I have the confidence to continue doing things like this.

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This is a cover of John Foley’s original song, “Come to the Water.” My version is in a folk-punk style ala Elliot Smith or Death Cab. http://www.icompositions.com/music/song.php?sid=81505.

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Top Dawg: Noah Needleman

Here’s a guy who has absolutely excellent acoustic guitar technique, plus has a GREAT voice. The combination is very pleasing to the ear. The guy’s not flashy, but it’s clear that he has a real command of his instrument, and that’s something that The Dawg looks for in a guitarist, so I wanted to recognize him here. Check out his YouTube.com site here.

And here’s a cover he did of John Mayer’s “Heart of Life:”

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I already wrote a quick review on this cool little box, but I thought I’d provide an update on the DigiTech Vocalist Live 4. Wow! What a tool! I’ve been playing around with it since I got it, and let me tell you, what it does is nothing short of amazing. Throw pretty much any chord at it – this includes “jazz” chords like half-dims, and it’ll create a harmony – ON THE FLY. What I didn’t go into with the last review were some of the features of the Vocalist. I’ll cover some highlights here.First off, it comes with 50 factory presets, but you can also save up to 50 user presets to customize harmony voicing (and several other parameters – 45 to be exact) to your liking. Editing is very easy. Select a preset number that you want, make your edits with a couple of button presses and knob turns, press “Store” and voila! You’ve got your own customized harmony!As far as it sounds, I created a quick recording of the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Mind you, it’s not mastered, and I kind of screwed up the solo, but you’ll get an idea of the great harmony that this box creates.The Vocalist comes in two flavors: the 2 or the 4. The 2 can provide up to two harmony vocals, whereas the 4 can provide up to 4 harmony vocals (hence the numeric designations). In addition, the 4 can also act as a mixer, so if you’re a solo player with just a guitar and your voice, you can use the 4 as your mixer. It comes with line-outs so you can hook up a pair of speakers. Myself, I route the guitar signal to my pedal board so I can use my effects then into the mixing board, then output processed vocals directly to the mixing board. Any way you choose to do it, configuration is a snap.Here are some other highlights:

  • Automatic pitch correction
  • Built-in guitar tuner (I prefer my TU-2)
  • Built-in mic pre-amp (so you can use a ribbon mic that needs a pre-amp)
  • +48V phantom power
  • Guitar ground-lift to eliminate hum
  • 24-bit/44.1 kHz audio (very nice)

Whether you play solo or in a band, the DigiTech Vocalist Live (either the 2 or the 4) is in my opinion a must-have box that will add a lot of vocal texture to your sound.

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